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Rao's?

  • b

OK, I know how impossible it is to get in there, but people keep saying how "authentic" and wonderful it is--though I wonder how THEY got in.
Surely one of you chowhounds has gotten in. How was it? Should I keep trying and begging?
If not, where's a great Siclian restaurant? It's my background and I want to compare the tastes to my mother's and grandma's.

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  1. I went once many years ago - I loved it for the experience much less so for the food. It was fine, as I remember some things better than others - more tasty than your average red sauce place but not worth the
    angst of trying to go. Other than sicily, my favorite sicilian is in rome - I'll try to think of one here...

    1. I want last week...unless you have an old great grandmother from Italy you will never have such homeade italian food...

      1. I've been there, some time ago. Food is good old school Italian-American, but not extraordinary; atmosphere is entertaining. Frankly, unless you're into the cachet, it's not worth the effort.

        For excellent Sicilian cooking, try Cacio e Vino on 2nd Ave between 4th and 5th. The food's better, IMO (and definitely Sicilian, which Rao's is not), and you don't need to be a friend of a friend to get a table.

        BTW, just noticed this thread is 7 years old. Someone might want to start a new one.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Striver

          I don't think we need a new one, what with all the old ones.

          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/219504
          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/199188
          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/465600

          However, there's nothing with four question marks after the word Rao's (one, two & three question marks are covered), so maybe we need one of those.

        2. goto arthur avenue in the bronx and walk into any italian rest and the food will be so much better than raos and without all the nonsence

          8 Replies
          1. re: canemh

            I think that's untrue. I have eaten at Rao's several times and I feel it is the closest to homemade Italian food that I have had ever. Anywhere. The pasta fagioli was so close to my mother's version that it almost made me cry. Arthur Avenue is wonderful and we go there frequently, but Rao's is sui generis. Have you ever eaten there?

            1. re: roxlet

              I have been to Rao's several times. The food is great but simple and homestyle. Joe's on MacDougal St. ( now closed) was very similar. And many of the same people ate at Joe's that eat at Rao's. I love their roasted peppers. In any case, my new go to restaurant is D'Andrea, its not really the same style as Rao's though. I haven't found anything similar, since Ennio and Michael's also closed. Arthur Ave is different. Dominick's is fun but not in the same style. Roberto's is way overrated. Il Cantinori when it reopens is worth a try , that is along the same style as Rao

              1. re: foodwhisperer

                Tiptoe around the corner from Joe's and look questioningly at the awning that says "Tiro a Segno." There's where you get the best Italian food in NY. Only thing is, it's a private club. My father was a very active member when I was growing up, and it was basically the only place we ever ate other than home. They would bring the chef over from Italy, usually a new one every couple of years, and he would make such unbelievably wonderful Italian food. As I remember, the chefs were always getting hired away to restaurants for more money. It's on MacDougal Street between Bleeker and W. Houston. I tried to join when my father died, but at that time, they had no female members. I wonder if it's changed...

                1. re: foodwhisperer

                  OT, but the Bolognese at Ennio and Michael's was the best I've ever had.

                    1. re: roxlet

                      Do you mean from Bologna itself or from Eataly?

                      1. re: foodiemom10583

                        Yes, Bologna, or other places in Italy, not eataly.

                        1. re: roxlet

                          Well, since I've never been to either Italy or Eataly, I really can't make a comparison. I hope you don't hold it against me. I've made and eaten it many times over the years and that was my favorite as well as my husband's. To qualify, this was between 1988-92 when I lived and worked on Washington Square.

            2. Meh! Been there, it's OK but I wouldn't go out of my way for it. The food is fine, but it's really about being made to feel a part of something elite. (I was with someone who had his picture on the wall.) But did I really want to listen to some guy get up and start singing opera for about 20 minutes in the middle of my meal? No, I would have preferred to continue our conversation. Admittedly, I'm not a huge fan of Italian food -- it's in my top ten but probably about ninth. And I truly do not "get" why pasta and simple sauce should cost so much. The big thrill is really about who else is there, dining next to you in a tiny restaurant. On the night I went that meant Tommy Hilfiger and Phil Dusenberry. So, yeah, it was cool seeing Dusenberry. But he's dead, now, so not even a chance of spotting him again.

              23 Replies
              1. re: Juxie

                I've been there twice, both times via the connected friend route. Deeply unimpressed. Perfectly decent Italian-American home cooking. Not even in the top 10 of Italian restaurants in Manhattan.

                1. re: strangemd

                  I'd say it's a particular kind of Italian home cooking, and if you grew up on it, and if your parents are no longer alive, it's a deeply personal and nostalgic thing and much, much more than "meh." Agreed that the whole exclusivity thing is very off-putting, but if it were freely available to me, and not a hassle to get a rez, I'd go there often.

                  1. re: roxlet

                    Agree with Roxlet. If Italian food is not even one of your (Juxie's) favorites, then you';d expect to miss the point of Rao's completely. Anyway, this is food of an era and spirit and memory, enlarged by exclusivity and the patina of being the sole survivor of what was until the 1950s the largest, densest Italian neighborhood in America. You can get similar styles and performances at Bamontes in Brooklyn, Don Pepe and Parkway in Queens, Mario's and Enzo's in the Bronx, and many more along Long Island strip malls. Not all traditional Italian American restaurant cooking is alike--some is exquisite, some dreck. But it is an important and meaningful tradition.

                    1. re: bob96

                      I agree with bob96 roxlet as far as the nostalgic, and the history. Don Pepe's is more a "family style" dishes. Actually they were the first, way back when they were called Vesuvio. Their baked clams are the best. Anyway, Bamonte's is more like Rao's, the size and atmosphere, even the dishes. But anyway, these days Rao's is more about gettin to eat there. I've seen a table ( no food included just a reservation) go for $5000 in an auction , how crazy is that. I've seen Tony Soprano at Rao's and also at Bamonte's, now there's a similarity, right?
                      Tiro a Segno hasnt changed, members are still Lee Iacocca, Italian doctors, etc. I once ate an amazing venison at Joe's but the deer was dressed and cooked at Tiro a Segno.
                      Joe's had great history, and great homestyle food. They also had a back entrance thru the kitchen where some customers could come and go without being seen. Pretty cool. Meanwhile Tribeca Grill and Nobu have a connecting tunnel, so that celebs can enter Nobu and leave a block away, avoiding the crowd or press.

                      1. re: foodwhisperer

                        Well, Tiro A Segno was something. Maybe I'll have to bite the bullet and ask a long-ago ex-boyfriend to let me take my son for dinner there. I'd love for him to see the place where I spent so many weekends (all the while dying to be let loose in the village!). I had my sweet 16 party there too, after a theatre party at The Fantastiks. It was wonderful, wonderful food. Not the Italian-American food of Rao's, which was the food of my childhood, but my first taste of the real Italy.

                          1. re: foodwhisperer

                            Well, I did it, and we are going to go to the Tiro sometime in May. I am very excited to see if the food holds up to my memory of it, which was really the opposite of Rao's. I think there was a time, after I spent a lot of time in Italy, that I would have spurned Rao's as not being Italian food, but maybe, just maybe, instead of disparaging it, we should look at it as a kissing cousin, and refer to it as "Italian Fusion." After all, no one seems to get their panties in a twist about Asian Fusion!.

                        1. re: NYJewboy

                          Bamonte's is not terrible, Even the Soprano's eat there. They filmed there also.
                          It's just another old school place. This thread goes back to 2002. As Striver said in 2009,," this is an old thread, time for a new one".... Rao's is overrated. but the food is comfortable food.

                    2. re: strangemd

                      Not even top 30...it's perfectly serviceable and well executed like you said though.

                      1. re: alexinct

                        I was there on Friday night .Service was great,ambiance was a 12, food was a 9. Not the greatest meal I've ever had but it was way good, and I can't wait to go back again. Seafood salad app was as good as I've ever had. Meatballs were great. Pork chop awesome. Just great knowing and being treated like you're special.

                        1. re: Cameron

                          Just don't call it Italian food. Nobody in Italy has ever eaten anything like it. it is totally a myth that it is "old-fashioned, southern Italian": it is American. Some like Chop Suey and Egg Foo Yung, too; but they were never Chinese or Cantonese, not in the forms served here. neither is the food at Rao's, delicious as it may be. But NOT Italian.

                          1. re: swannee

                            All the Italians came to America and said, we will never cook the food we ate at home, lets change it for America. How absurd.

                            1. re: foodwhisperer

                              At the risk of going off-topic for this board, it's more like coming to America produced a new regional Italian cuisine, using what was available here and substituting that in some cases for things like vegetables that were not available here. But what also changed was - as with Jewish delicatessens - a culture of abundance that brought with it huge amounts of food, unlike the meals of smaller but multiple courses that were and are traditional in Italy.

                              1. re: Pan

                                I do understand what your saying. However, even though some ingredients in Italian food has changed, and some new dishes were created here in U.S. There are many dishes still very similar to dishes in Italy. pasta with tomato sauce being the first one that comes to mind. Pasta with mixed seafood, although some of the seafood might change a little. Pizza Margharita. Risotto dishes. Lasagna, many many more. Maybe not Veal Parmigiana, but so many other dishes have a similarity. Even if quite often they are much better in Italy because the cooking may have more homemade feel, or more love and care go into it, perhaps. Regionally the food does change in Italy. Even economically the food changes, My Italian relatives never ate veal until they came to this country. The film Big Night, shows that the people here wanted just meatballs and spaghetti and not the gourmet Italian dishes back in the 50's.

                                1. re: foodwhisperer

                                  You're all right, I think. And I think I have coined the term that would be useful in referring to restaurants like Rao's: Italian Fusion!

                                  1. re: foodwhisperer

                                    We're really in agreement. Italian-American food is a regional Italian cuisine. Or, if you prefer, we can call it "Italian Fusion," as roxlet does.

                              2. re: swannee

                                Come on. This is of course not today's Italian food, but it was once an amalgam of Italian American creativity (Neapolitan restaurateurs trying to please an American clientele) and a range of home cooking with traditional southern Italian foods adapted to American ingredients--pasta with beans and lentils, oily greens, stuffed vegetables, small bits of meat or chicken cooked al forno with potatoes, frittatas, minestre, plus holiday foods and sweets--the list of continuities is long, if you'd bothered to look. Before the re-opening of Italian immigration (mostly from Sicily, Puglia, and Calabria) in the 1960s, which brought with it such things as balsamic vinegar, prosciutto di parma, and other things once unknown or prohibited, there was a great divide between Italian America and a rapidly developing Italy, so many habits diverged., But my cousins in Calabria today make a Sunday ragu (with meatballs) and other dishes my grandparents in Brooklyn would have recognized and enjoyed more than 75 years later.. Be careful to distinguish commercialized Italian American cliches from long-term Italian American home coking, which preserves many "Italian" (or, rather, regional/local) traditions. Old-fashioned southern Italian is, at base, exactly that--I grew up on it, and eat it when I go back to old, southern Italy.

                                1. re: bob96

                                  Is there a bar you can have a drink? Or, perhaps a bowl of pasta?

                                      1. re: Klocke

                                        You mean a seat. There only about eight tables at Rao's. My understanding is that you will need to be invited by one of the owners of the respective tables.

                                        1. re: scoopG

                                          Scoop is pretty much correct. You get a table and its for a certain night of the week usually. I have a friend that has a Thursday table. There are never cancellations, if someone can't make it , the table owner can give it to a friend , or even at times put a table reservation up for a charity event. So, There are exceptions, that somehow celebrities or high powered people have a way to get a table. Perhaps the owner saves a table for such situations.